The bivalve seashells, or shells that come in two parts or halves, can be similar in appearance, but not all bivalves are “clams”. I’m not scientifically minded, but I’ve been learning the difference between the shells I collect and photograph.
I’ve gathered some photos of the more common bivalves I see on beaches and in the saltwater rivers around my area of Florida. A general bivalve list includes: clams, oysters, scallops, cockles and mussels.
Clams and Arks
My photos below in this section contain various types of clam shells. Also, there are many types of Venus clams and loads of coquina clams. Shells called “arks” are also clams.
I rarely collect oyster shells but we see oyster beds while out on our boat. Oyster shells are sharp, and are the scourge of boaters because they can slice up the underside if a bed is accidentally hit while running. While walking the flats in oyster areas I can hear the shells snapping as they feed.
Scallop shells can be some of the prettiest shells. Certain types of scallops have one flat side and the other is normal / rounded. The concave part is in the sand or bottom and the flat part is on top and opens like a flap when the scallop is alive. Scallops propel themselves around by opening and closing their shells.
The Kitten Paw and larger Lion’s Paw shells are also scallops. I found these Kitten Paw shells while visiting Sanibel Island on the Gulf coast. I’ve never seen any where I live on the east coast.
Cockles are not clams although they look similar. Because they have an oval shape with high top part (umbo), when a whole cockle is viewed from the side it resembles a heart. For that reason, they are known as the heart shell or heart cockle.
Mussel shells are something I rarely collect or photograph because they really are not great looking shells. They are dark colored and shaped like thin fans. The pen shell is distantly related and I have a few pictures here. The pen shell can be nearly a foot in length and is more impressive than a mussel.